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Sunday, 15 May 2011

Vinum Tasting of Italian Wines

I recently went to the Vinum portfolio tasting - it was held at Chelsea FC football ground and if I were any type of football fan, I might have been excited at the prospect of even a little proximity with such hallowed, Russian-moneyed turf - instead, I just noted that it was a long way from pretty much anywhere except Fulham.

Arriving after work with just a few hours left, I knew I would not manage to taste all the wines but decided to kick off at stand #1and see how far I could get.

For ease of reading, I have grouped my reviews by region, but for me the surprise revelation was the crisply-structured white wines of the northern Friuli Venezia Giulia.

The vineyards for these wines are located mid-way between the Alps and the Mediterranean, giving high daytime temperatures, but distinctly chilly nights which in turn results in a long growing season and a fresh, complex, structured acidity that I find I particularly like.

The other main find was I Favati, a small winery from Campania in the south all of whose wines were excellent and worth seeking out.

The islands of Sicily and Sardinia also showed some good, and good-value, wines.

All the wines were in general well-made, with only a small number that were either disappointingly basic or just in a style that is not to my taste.

Any prices quoted are trade DPD ex-VAT.

Piedmonte

The Arneis from Terre da Vino, fermented in stainless steel, was fresh with good tropical fruit acidity.

Their Barolo had good cherry fruit, some vanilla from oak aging, pepperiness on the palate and a nicely firm, grippy finish.

Finally, their sweet Moscato Passito (aged for 12 months in barriques) was fresh with tropical fruit, spice and exotic lychees.

A Barolo from Gaja was elegant, harmonious and smooth with good grip and fruit - it was also over £80 a bottle !

A 2007 Barbaresco Ovello from Cascina Morassino was closer to being merely a little extravagant in price, and was smooth with prunes and tobacco on the nose, good mouthfeel and harmonious cherry fruit. This was apparently a very good vintage resulting in easy-drinking wines that are showing well now.

Veneto

A Custova from Cavalchina made from mainly Garganega was fresh, lively and aromatic on the nose with a nicely balanced palate and a dry finish.

A port-like sweet red Recioto della Valpolicella Classico from Brigaldara had a rich complex nose and showed sweet eucalyptus, liquorice, herbs and berry fruit with a long finish. It's not priced as an everyday wine, but you really do not need a lot of this as it is so intense.

A 2010 Soave from Balestri Valda by contrast was crisp and well-structured with good minerality and felt like it has the potential to improve further with age.

The sweet white Recioto di Soave was superbly enjoyable and a personal favourite - delicious sweetness matched with refreshing linear acidity, floral notes of elderflower and good minerality on the finish.

I was, if I'm honest, a little underwhelmed by all the fizzes here (both Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige) - for different reasons:

Veneto

A Valdobbiadene from Canevel was light and crisp; fermented in tanks, it was very different in style from a Champagne but left me wondering how it had garnered a Gold Medal from Sommelier.

The Prosecco from Vallate was again light and crisp, with floral notes and a surprisingly linear acidity but, again tank-fermented, it seemed to lack the finesse (as well as the price tag) of Champagne.

Trentino Alto Adige - fizz

Ferrari is perhaps the best well-known of the Champagne-method producers of fizz in this region - their entry-level Maximum Brut was more complex than the Proseccos, if more expensive, but had a slightly off-putting aroma of sweaty animal.

At the other end of their price range, the Giulio Ferarri Riserva is aged for almost 10 years on the lees resulting in a richer, fuller, more complex style with a longer finish. But there was still the same hint of "damp animal".

Trentino Alto Adige - still

Müller-Thurgau, a hybrid of Riesling and Madeleine Royale, is a grape I associate with Germany and central Europe, so I was interested to see what Girlan's would be like. It was crisp and felt well-made with exotic aromas of rose petals and lychees.

Keeping in theme, the Gewurz also felt well-made and had prominent crisp, well-structured acidity with characteristic floral notes.

Friuli Venezia Giulia

The Sauvignon Collio from Branko was very impressive - it had an aromatic and slightly smoky nose, fresh, linear acidity and a minerally finish. But what, for me, set it apart was a mouthfilling, thick-skinned intensity that I associate with grapes grown at altitude.

As noted earlier, winemaker Igor Erzetic explained that this comes from the combination of warm southerly air coming up from the Mediterranean by day and cooler air in the evening coming down from the alps.

The white wines from Forchir were equally impressive and had the same sense of terroir.

The Pinot Grigio had a good nose and felt rounded with a minerally finish.

The Friuliano was a step up with just a bit more of everything - riper, heavier and fuller, it had minerality, perfume and freshness.

The Chardonnay was predictably less aromatic, but showed lots of lively fruit, pineapple acidity and was balanced and mouthfilling.

The Sauvignon had a rich and complex nose and was intense and steely, with distinct but restrained aromatic notes, a linear acidity and mouthfilling minerality.

As Paolo Baj explained to me, as well as the diurnal temperature fluctuations, the other key aspect of the local terroir is the soil which is made up from stones washed down from the Alps and gives the wine its distinct fruit and aromas.

Emilia Romagna

The Sauvignon Colli Piacenti from Castelli del Duca was crisp and mineral with a rather challenging acidity.

Their Bonarda showed vanilla and cherry on the nose, but also had similarly rasping finish.

Toscana

The 2007 Chianti Cassico from Castello della Paneretta was described as their everyday wine - with a nose of toasty oak and cherry fruit, it felt smooth and harmonious on the palate, but still had some grip on the finish.

Their Riserva was a noticeable step up - the grapes are from the same vineyards as the Classico, but there is a better selection of grapes and more extension oaking is used. It felt fuller and more rounded with a greater depth of flavour and, unsurprisingly, had more vanilla aromas.

A 2004 Brunello Cupio from Pinino, aged for 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels, was mellow after so much aging, but still felt tannic and grippy in an old-school way with, for me, not enough balancing fruit.

Marche

Santa Barbara's entry-level 2010 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi was crisp and light, if a little harsh on the finish. By contrast their Le Vaglie Classico was fuller and more mouthfilling, with more on the nose and a smoother finish.

The Stefano Antonucci Classico is aged for for 12 months in barriques and felt fuller again, with a leesy, creamy, butteriness. Less aromatic than the previous two wines aged in stainless steel, it had a freshness with good, balanced acidity.

Abruzzo

A Pecorino from Talamonti was fresh, mouthfilling and well-made. Presenter Claudio Scarsi explained that it goes well with sushi and it certainly has the body and the acidity to do so.

Campania

I was very impressed with all the wines from I Favati - they are a husband and wife team who work 15ha of volcanic soils in Avellino using traditional local varieties.

They were presented by Senora Favati who explained that 2009 had been a good year for their whites, but less so for reds with late rains.

The 2009 Fiano, aged for around six months on the lees, was fresh yet mouthfilling and rounded. The Greco di Tufo (also 2009, also aged similarly but slightly cheaper) I thought was even better - aromatic and fresh, it was was mouthfilling with hints of beeswax and floral notes.

Moving onto the reds, their 2006 Aglianico Campi Taurasini was lively and complex with good fruit with some complex sweetness on the mid-palate, clove and cinnamon spice, mixed fruit and fruitcake aromas as well as good texture and a pleasantly grippy dry finish.

The 2004 Taurasini Terzotratto, another Aglianico, but with a more extensive oaking and bottle aging regime was a further step-up in complexity and sophistication.

With so much going on there, I wondered asked about food matches for the reds; Rosanna Favati suggested either beef or, better, game, such as pheasant or wild board which live in the foothills of the nearby Appenines.

I have to say, slow-roast pheasant with a spiced red wine jus sounds perfect for one of these wines.

Puglia

A Primitivo from Conti Zecca had good spice and acidity.

The Trenatre Salento Rosso from Angelo Rocca - a mixture of Cab, Merlot and Montepulciano - had a complex nose and showed vanilla spice, cloves and pepper with a custard-creaminess and a mouthfilling texture.

Sicilia

The Aquilae Catarrato from Canicatti was fresh and lemony with hints of herbaceous verbena; felt rounded and balanced on the palate, it is also good value.

Presenter Fausto Poli explained to that the winery focuses on autochthonous grapes (i.e. native Sicilian, as opposed to either native Italian or international).

However, there was one Syrah and I was intrigued by the idea of a Sicilian Syrah which proved very different from any other major style, such as French or Oz; aged in concrete vats, it had a creamy texture, a spiciness and slightly festered sourness which made me wonder if the bottle had been open just a little too long.

The Nero d'Avola Aynat had vanilla, spice and cherry with funky hints of farmyard but the same, slightly festered acidity. Like the earlier Campania reds, this would match well with game or spiced red meat, assuming the rotting-hay sourness was due to the heat of the day and not an inherent characteristic.

Sardegna

The Vermentino Aragosta from Santa Maria La Palma was crisp, dry and citrussy in a straightforward sort of way as befits its value price tag.

The Vermentino I Papiri, at just £1 more expensive, was very good and especially for the price - herbaceous and rounded, it had a little more of everything compared to the Aragosta.

Details of all the wines, including prices can be found on Vinum's website.

Selected links

Vinum - http://www.vinum.co.uk/

I Favati - http://www.cantineifavati.it/

Branko - no website: Località Zegla, 20 34071 Cormons, Gorizia Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy tel : 481639826

Forchir - http://www.forchir.it/

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